Part 4 – Exercise 2 – Gucci Advert

For the purposes of this exercise, I bought a mixture of magazines (including men’s mags) and not really being someone who regularly scours or flicks through a lot of magazines (other than photography ones) outside of going to the hairdressers, it was an interesting exercise to compare the different style and quality of images used in the adverts.  The perfume and after shave adverts followed a very specific minimalistic code of format for example.. As soon as I spotted this Gucci ad it was an easy decision to choose this one given the bold colours alongside the and effortlessly upmarket ‘cool’ retro feel…. I thought the bold yellow was a note to the Kodak company colours of the 70s.  I have written some comments around the advert and scanned it in to upload to my blog:-

Advertising Image GUCCI

Part 4 – Exercise 1 – Elliot Erwitt

 

Elliot Erwitt - New York, 1974
Elliot Erwitt – New York, 1974

 

The brief for this exercise is to write notes about how the subject matter is placed in the frame, how it is structured, and explain what you think the image is saying..

I think the composition really works in this image. There are so many perpendicular vertical lines which form a distinct rhythmical pattern and which naturally you are reading from left to right (tree, dog legs, human legs, dog lead, mini dog legs) and then to finally rest your eyes on the main subject in the image.  The background and immediate foreground are pleasingly thrown out of focus and so don’t really feature at all in the photograph and therefore don’t detract. The photographer has got right down, almost to the ground, to be at eye-level with the smallest dog, rendering the other subjects just as a series of legs. I think the dog is saying ‘I know I’m small but I have 2 towering bodyguards and a heap of style in this hat, so you really don’t want to mess with me!’ .

The image reminds me very much of the 2 Ronnies’ sketch ‘I know my place’. In the famous sketch John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett are lined up left to right, each representing the different classes in British society which in turn is further emphasized by their differing heights:-

Barker; ‘I look up to him (looking at Cleese) because he is upper class, but I look down on him (looking at Corbett) because he is lower class.’
Corbett: ‘I know my place‘…….

The sketch then turns and Corbett goes on to say ‘I know my place.  I look up to them both, but while I am poor, I am honest, industrious and trustworthy. Had I the inclination, I could look down on them both. But I don’t’.

The image reminds us to not discount the diminutive little guy, he’s may well probably the boss, so don’t think he has any less power or authority, you will dismiss him at your peril!  Start with him first, the other guys are a waste of leg space and are probably getting vertigo way up there… It’s a lesson on ensuring we listen to everyone, not just the leaders but the little folk too.

It’s clearly an intentionally comical image, especially noting the fashion sense of the little dog and his pointed and unflinching gaze into the camera despite his stature and it’s a great example of the iconic and comedic black and white street images of the time.

Assignment 3 – Research – Inspiring Self-portraits

FlickR is a rich source of imaginative self-portraits so it was useful to rifle through some websites which had selected some of the best creative ‘selfies’ to kick start me off on generating some ideas for the assignment. Many used photo-editing techniques to brilliant effect, such as this image entitled ‘Disagreement’ by Petri Damsten (https://www.flickr.com/photos/pdamsten/25554845560/in/dateposted/), depicting the struggle that besets us when temptation strikes…

Petri Damsten1

Similarly this image ‘Confused self’ by Adele Firth (https://www.flickr.com/photos/afirth/6014503963/in/dateposted/)….

Adele Firth (FlickR)

…. uses equally nifty post-production techniques and appeals to me more when you read her predicament in her caption: ‘Self portrait taken on a day when I was full of energy and different emotions and feeling very frustrated with myself!!! I knew I wanted to do something creative but I couldn’t pin down in my mind how I felt or what I was wanting to do which resulted in a whole heap of frustration and mixed emotions (all of which were captured on camera!).’ 

Some of the images make clever use of reflections – a relatively easy way to capture yourself without the hassle of setting up a tripod, camera release etc., and its the abstraction of the layers of reflection that make the photograph interesting as in these examples by Mario Mancuso (https://www.flickr.com/photos/mario-mancuso/25664114314/) and Jason Rufus (https://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonrufus/5339263157/)

Mario Mancuso (FlickR)

Jason Rufus (Flickr)

Some photographs just made me smile; there is something about the self-deprecating nature of these images which instantly attract me and warm me to the character, such as these images by Jason Travis (https://www.flickr.com/photos/jasontravis/14581782416/in/album-72157622601844079/) and Paul Stevenson (https://www.flickr.com/photos/pss/4876189045/)

Jason Travis (FlickR)

Paul Stevenson (FlickR)

 

Part 3 – Exercise 4 – Nigel Shafran’s ‘Washing Up’

The requirement for this exercise was to review Nigel Shafran’s series of images ‘Washing Up’ and answer the following specific questions:-

Did it surprise you that this was taken by a man? Why?
No, I don’t think it did surprise me that the series was taken by a man. The question assumes that the domesticity of the series should somehow have been narrated by a female, or worse, that the subtlety of the rhythmic nature of the act of washing up as part of daily life, could not have been observed in such sensitive detail by a man. I suppose that the series being akin to a diary is perhaps more surprising to me that the artist is male, but that is down to my misplaced gender assumption that women write ‘diaries’ and men write ‘journals’, translated as women do feelings, men do facts. I don’t think men and women can be so clearly distinguished – there is more overlap than separation between the sexes. Having said this, my reaction to the image below was ‘how annoying that the carrier bag is just left there on the side without being put away’, and my partner’s first comment was ‘that light switch is illegal – it’s too close to the water/taps’. Certainly our initial responses were very literal for both of us and typically gender-oriented!

004washing_up

In your opinion does gender contribute to the creation of an image?
Clearly there are certain topics for which only either a man or woman could ever have experienced and the personal perspective would inevitably be more powerful, such as Elina Brotherus’ ‘Annunciation’ series about her IVF experiences. A male equivalent might be the feelings evoked by being a catholic priest being unable to marry and having to live their entire lives within the boundaries of the strict rules of the church regarding relationships. It might be impossible for an authentic interpretation of these emotions via a photographic series without the artist actually ‘living’ that particular life.

Equally, the different genders historically contributed to the production of certain images, purely by the virtue of legally having access to a location e.g. front line images in war photography. Don McCullin shot photographs on the front line of shell-shocked soldiers but Lee Miler captured images to document the female war effort from very much behind the front lines.  Who can say how much of their choice of type of image was dictated by virtue of their legal right to enter different locations or whether it was merely their personal choice of subject?

Beyond those specific situational or logistical differences I’ve cited, I don’t think gender particularly influences the creation of an image. Men are certainly not constricted by a ‘stiff upper lip’ expectation, and equally women are not expected to stay within the confines of a domestic/maternal or emotion-evoking topics to create photographs any more.

What does this series achieve by not including people?
Perversely by removing people in these images makes you wonder about them! The artist wants us to look at the objects in the photographs and interpret them as part of a richer mosaic of the owners’ lives and relationship. He’s asking us to look at the subtleties of the variations – the sometimes beautiful available lighting, the different kitchen styles etc. He is encouraging us to piece together elements of their lives together, moving between the wider family members’ kitchens, days not being at home, but maybe being in their ‘second home’ or their childhood home, together… the rhythmic daily drum beat of life – eating, clearing up, washing up, sleeping.

Do you regard them as interesting ‘still life’ compositions?
The human relationship element behind these apparently banal images is patently what makes them interesting. I think you would also need to appreciate the sheer scope of the series (Shafran took over 2000 images) and spend time reviewing a large number of them to get a true sense of their lives together and the strength and nature of Shafran’s connection with this wife. It would only be by seeing these images on mass that you would understand more and learn more about the artist and be able to understand his interpretation of ‘home’ through these photographs.

Part 3 – Exercise 3 – Childhood Memory

For this exercise I was required to recreate a childhood memory in a photograph…  I decided to pick a game which the family played endlessly in caravan holidays and over Christmas every year – Whatchamacallit. It was a game which was very inclusive (all ages could easily play it), rowdy (there was always much screaming and arguing) and quick (no time for boredom to set in). The game also allowed for a bit of cheating and appealed to the highly competitive, of which I was one such individual!

The object of the game following a spin of the psychedelic pink, purple and yellow alphabet wheel, was to quickly name something beginning with the letter the wheel rested on, based on one of the subjects from the main board. You then had to shout out your answer and simultaneously throw your ball into the cardboard box and down to the plastic ball-shaped hole with such a force that even if someone else shouted their answer first, your ball would dislodge their ball and you would win a plastic counter.  The bigger your pile at the end of the game, the more chance you had to be crowned Whatchamacallit King or Queen!

Balls used to fly long distances and in the caravan, often ricochet off the walls; there was no penalty for using whatever means, so long as your ball ended up in the hole first.  We often used to lurk menacingly on the edge of the box with our balls or hover over the top of the box with them but often this was just a threatening gesture, it was better to aim from further away to get enough pace on the ball. The pressure of the game often meant that other families on the same campsite could hear us having fun several caravans and tents from our own. We apologise for disturbing the peace…

WhatchamacallitFINALsmall

I took several photographs of the game and using a shutter release cable, hid under the table and at different angles, used my own hand to replicate the ways we used to wait for the spin of the alphabet wheel with baited breath before all hell let loose…  I then created 3 layers in Photoshop, one with the entire scene and my hand in, the other 2 layers using my hands holding the ball at different angles.  I think the picture captures the expectation, but obviously not the madness that ensured.. the proverbial calm before the storm.

Perhaps another way of creating this image would have been to get some bodies to throw in the balls from different angles. I could then have created a blur effect for the coloured balls heading into the box which would have given an essence of the frenzy that ensued… It’s sometimes a shame that photographs don’t contain the ability to include noise (although I suppose they do in the form of videos and obviously I’m aware that many contemporary artists now use a mixture of different types of media including sound alongside their digital or film photographs.)

The other idea I had was to include myself in the shot wearing a motorcycle helmet to give some sense of the sheer danger(!), but that would have moved away from the memory itself.  The other thought I had was to go to a second hand shop and try and source some orange and brown curtains, which always seemed to be part of the typical décor in the ‘Alpine’ mobile caravan of the 80s.

I am of course present in this image. The self-portrait aspect of it would be something along the lines of my competitiveness but I felt it was important not to include my face with it’s wrinkles in it of today; it is after all a childhood memory and I had no latex to hand!

The name of the image could be something like.. “Silently waiting for family carnage to ensue”… or similar.. it is difficult to think of something short and snappy for this.

I am fully aware that this photograph will appear a little bland and mean nothing to any other viewer, but the purpose of the exercise was to bring back a personal memory and for me, it does.  I have emailed the image to my sister to see what response it gets and I will update this post accordingly…

Part 3 – Exercise 2 – Nikki S Lee, Trish Morrissey

The brief for this exercise was to look at works by Nikki S Lee and Trish Morrissey…

Nikki S Lee

Is there any sense in which Lee’s work could be considered voyeuristic or even exploitative? Is she commenting on her own identity, the group identity of the people she photographs or both?

I assume that Lee invited herself into the different groups she focusses on for her ‘Projects’ series; The Punk Project, the Tourist Project etc., as opposed to welcoming volunteers to participate, so for me the level of exploitation, if there was any, relates to how Lee negotiated her ‘acceptance’.

It’s curious to think what Lee said to her subjects to be so willingly accepted into their group, despite so blatantly parodying their appearance and gestures. A typical UK response would be ‘Are you taking the p***?’ but that would be more of a reflection of our cynical British defensiveness in the face of something different and boundary-pushing.  But did the ‘Seniors’ have it explained that they would ultimately feature in an exhibition? Also what did ‘being accepted’ into a group really entail? An article on the subject by Brittany Carpenter of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, suggests that Lee worked for 2 to 3 months to be accepted into each social group.  I’m sure she took time to get to know the members of the groups but what was the level of anticipation? Bingo every Weds with the Seniors? Attending gigs with the punks? Sharing the same hotel with the Tourists?  And what is her relationship with these people now? I cannot really comment on the question of voyeurism/exploitation because there are so many unanswered questions about what happened in the months before and after the images were taken, and I think this is entirely deliberate by Lee.

I don’t think Lee is necessarily wanting to make a strong statement about the authenticity of photographs but maybe she does touch on it briefly.   In the images where it is clearly plausible she is part of the group given her age and portrayal (The Yuppie, Tourist and Punk Project images above), we wouldn’t even notice her participation looking at the photos individually.  We do however question their authenticity when the photos are viewed as part of a series and it’s evident in the Seniors Project that she’s not exactly decrepit.

I would like to think that Lee is commenting on our choices in life – which sub-groups we veer towards and become part of, our need to be part of a group in whatever form, the subtle ‘uniforms’ which we subconsciously take on to ‘fit’ with that group. As a forty-something year old female who might want to be out of that ‘oh God what should I wear?’ phase of life, continues to subscribe to the Fat Face/White Stuff casual, could-be-worn-by-a-teenager-as-well-as-a middle-aged-woman style…  I would suggest that she is wanting to expand our horizons. She is telling us not to fall into an expected group as if it’s a natural course of life, but push us to extend our boundaries, maybe be more accepting of other groups on the basis that we are ourselves all made up of the same stuff underneath. I like how she has left us to interpret her images in the way we see fit.

Trish Morrissey

Would you agree to Morrissey’s request if you were enjoying a day on the beach with your family? If not, why not?  Morrissey uses self-portraiture in more of her work, namely Seven and The Failed Realist. Look at these projects online and make some notes in your learning log.

Angela-Reynish

The above image entitled ‘Angela Reynish’, the woman that Trish Morrissey replaced in the photograph,  is taken from Morrissey’s series ‘Front’, obviously a word play on her exploits on various beaches, swapping herself with, and wearing the clothes of, someone in the family group, before taking a photograph of that scene.  I probably would not have accepted Morrissey’s request to swap. I think it is because I’m of the generation where half the box full of photographs of my childhood were those taken at Waxham in Norfolk, camping in a tent by the dunes with my mum, dad, sisters, and smattering of our 15 cousins and various aunts and uncles. These images are sacred!  These photos would be some of the ones which would be ‘hoiked’ out in the event of a fire at the house. These are evidence of the cement which ties a family together, of the ‘always’ sunny summer holidays, and probably of our innate, instinctive protection of the family as a unit. It would have felt perverse to let Morrissey invade these images back then and in a sense it would feel equally as perverse to let her do this now:- whilst our use of photographs has changed dramatically since 30 years ago, there is still a place for these ‘historical’ family documents remaining untouched, even if nowadays they are digital and the volume of them has increased exponentially. Let us keep some things untampered with by art!

The Failed Realist

 

Pocahantas (2011)I enjoyed this series of Morrissey’s a lot more (this wouldn’t be difficult I hear you mutter…).  This was Trish Morrissey’s collaboration with her daughter, highlighting the lag that 4 to 6 year olds have in developmental terms of what she calls ‘visual articulation’ compared to their ‘verbal articulation’, i.e. their ability to paint and draw, being reliant on less-well developed motor skills.  I like how the face-painting on ‘Mum’ must have been created with a lot of laughter, mess and joy.. and the resulting Picasso-esque face is symbolic of the mother-daughter union. It’s also a statement about the submission of the mother to put the child first, of the lack of  boundaries enabling the unleashed child to fully explore, express and be messily creative etc. This series has a heart to it and  Morrissey’s rather stoic, blank expression almost emphasises the symbolic passing her creative baton to her daughter. It is effectively a self-portrait of them both.

Seven Years

April-16th-1984

I enjoyed the comical endeavour of Morrissey reproducing the photos of the 70s and 80s with her sister. Original memories and photos intact, unlike in ‘Front’ above, she sought to mimic the staging of events that warranted a family photo. These images of a laid table pre birthday celebration/cake cutting are direct replicas of tens of photos we have in our family. The 80s clothes of course verge on being a painful recollection!  Again, the sense of fun in the creation of these photographs is evident alongside the obvious effort in generating an authentic reproduction, locating suitable props etc.  I would need to bring out my wipe-clean pinafore dress, the knitted dresses that automatically rolled up above our knees at the hems that our mum using that weird knitting machine, and the brown ‘The Good Life’ crockery. The awkward ‘gangly’ teenager look and body stance was very evident in my old photos but this seems to have been lost with the passing of a generation today, so used to ‘selfies’ and being the subject of photos. These are very astute observations from Morrissey and the whole series of images made me very reflective of my own past.